Pranab calls on scientists to aid agriculture

Last Updated: Tue, Jul 16, 2013 17:35 hrs

President Pranab Mukherjee on Tuesday called upon the country's researchers to find technological solutions to challenges being faced by Indian agriculture and aid millions of small and marginal farmers.

He addressed eminent agricultural scientists and policy makers on Tuesday on the occasion of the 85th Foundation Day of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).

Congratulating the ICAR for its service that has spanned more than eight decades, he said the body has today a comprehensive institutional infrastructure including four deemed universities, 47 central institutes, seventeen national research centres and 25 project directorates to carry out its objectives.

ICAR was set up with an important mandate to plan and promote education, research and its application in agriculture, agro-forestry, animal husbandry, home science, fisheries and allied sciences.

"I am told that ICAR has developed soil fertility maps for five hundred districts in 21 states; decision support systems for efficient nutrient management; watershed development models; resource conservation technologies in the Indo-Gangetic basin; 300 improved varieties of field crops; and 186 varieties of horticultural crops. The technologies and human resources developed by ICAR have made a stellar contribution in increasing agricultural productivity and production," Mukherjee said.

He said Indian agricultural system was underdeveloped after independence.

"Food grains production was not enough to feed every citizen. Before Independence, in 1943, our country faced one of the world´s worst food disasters - the Bengal Famine - wherein an estimated four to five million people died of hunger. During 1946 to 1952, we imported on an average 3 million tonne of food grains annually. National food security became naturally a priority agenda for national development," he said.

"India is today a leading producer of essential food commodities like wheat, rice, fresh fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs and fish. It has transformed from being a food-deficient to food surplus country and an exporter of agricultural produce," the President said.

"This, in the face of an ever increasing population, is a laudable achievement with few parallels. Our agriculture has become more resilient. Despite our country facing two severe droughts during the last decade, our agricultural production remained well above the 200 million tonne mark of grain production," he added.

Crediting the agricultural research and development system, he said that agriculture is now poised for a Rainbow Revolution fuelled by technology-induced growth in horticulture, livestock and fisheries sectors.

Despite the growth in agriculture, he pointed out three challenges lying ahead.

"Some studies have indicated that a one percentage growth in agriculture is two to three times more effective in reducing poverty than a one percentage growth in non-farm sectors. The average growth rate in Agriculture and Allied sectors during the Eleventh Plan period was 3.6 per cent as against the average growth rate of the total economy of 8.0 per cent during this period," Mukherjee said.

"To alleviate poverty, promote inclusive growth on a sustainable basis, sustain food security, increase employment opportunities and boost rural incomes, our agriculture sector must be robust," he added.

"We have envisaged the agriculture sector to grow at 4 per cent per annum during the Twelfth Plan period. During the Twelfth Plan period, the growth in demand for major crops is projected to slow down."

"We have to achieve higher productivity levels to attain the agricultural growth target for this Plan period. We must place greater emphasis on productivity-driving measures such as diversification of crops, improvement in seed replacement rate, adoption of high yielding hybrid seeds, and improvement in water management practices.," he noted.

He said the need for balanced use of fertilizers and pesticides should be propagated amongst our farming community through agriculture education and extension programmes.

"ICAR and other agricultural institutions are engaged to promote fertilizer use efficiency. Latest technology must be deployed to assist decision-making by farmers regarding selection of crop variety, right agricultural practices and right markets to sell the produce," the President said.

He said as part of the Union Budget for 2010-11 a four-fold strategy was delineated covering agricultural production, reduction in wastage, credit support and thrust to the food processing sector.

As part of the strategy, the government decided to implement 'Bringing Green Revolution to Eastern India' (BGREI) programme under Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana in Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, Eastern Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and West Bengal to address issues of rice-based cropping system in these States.

"I am happy to note that as a result of these initiatives, farmers in the selected clusters have adopted new technology, good agricultural practices and benefitted from the yield advantage of hybrid rice technology," Mukherjee informed.

"To spur productivity growth in such farmlands, it is necessary to develop low-cost, light-weight, multi-purpose farm equipments. Mechanization of small farms is the need of the hour as it can also mitigate labour scarcity during peak season. Mechanization in agriculture should be facilitated by efficient energy management," he advised.

"To reduce dependence on conventional fuels and ensure sustainability, our research institutions must focus on renewable energy models like solar power and biofuels," he added.

He said timely availability of affordable quality seeds is crucial for achieving higher agricultural production.

According to him, development and introduction of genetically modified crops has the potential to revolutionise agriculture.

He said agriculture should be made an intellectually stimulating discipline and a rewarding profession to attract talent in this sector.

"Agricultural education should focus on the contemporary challenges of food insecurity; declining productivity; depletion of natural resources; increased risk from climate change; regional imbalance; rising input costs; changing food habits, and post-harvest management," the President said.

"In our economy, agriculture retains its primary importance in terms of value creation and employment generation. There are millions of farmers tilling on small and marginal holdings."

"Our challenge is to reach out to the last farmland and equip them with the best cultivation methods. Improving the quality of agricultural education holds the key to driving not only agricultural growth but also developing technologies for sustainable agriculture leading to livelihood and nutritional security," he said inviting the scientific fraternity to work towards a technology-led path for development of agriculture.

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